Christian Heilmann

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Archive for November, 2019

Wanted: disabled developers to help improve tooling accessibilty

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

Welcome sign

I have a new job. I am now Principal Program Manager for developer tools. As part of this job, we’re improving and changing the developer tools in the Chromium project. We already fixed quite a few bugs and got ourselves and our engineers ingrained in the project. Chromium is the base for quite a few browsers now, for example Google’s Chrome, Samsung’s Internet and now also Microsoft’s Edge. We are basing our work on research with real users and their needs.

Improving tools based on customer needs

Developer tools are complex as they are and we want to ensure that new features have an audience instead of just being a “nice to have”. One big thing we already are working on is offering the developer tools in different languages. We found for example that about a third of the users of Visual Studio Code use the tool in another language than English.

A need for accessible products

Microsoft is a company who has to abide by a lot of laws and regulations as part of our work with huge companies and government departments. A big part of this is that all our products need to be accessible. This also applies to the browser and its interface and that now includes the developer tools.

At Ignite yesterday we announced that we’re due to release the browser early next year. We are pretty confident that the browser interface of the browser is accessible. The developer tools are a different beast altogether though. We’re working hard to make them accessible in the sense of the WCAG guidelines. Often this means adding an ARIA label, but I am not happy with this. We can do better, but I don’t want to work on assumptions. We need to know how developers with different needs use the tools and how they get stuck.

We need you to create accessible and useful developer tools

So here’s my request: if you are a developer who is visually or otherwise impaired I’d love for you to try out some scenarios in developer tools and give us feedback. I am already working with a few people and we learned quite a bit (most of the devtools are keyboard accessible now). I am sure though that real needs and wants of developers will result in much better tools.

To reiterate: I really want to talk to developers who have an impairment, not to testing agencies or people who think what for example, a blind developer might need. We want this to be truly accessible and useful, and for that we want to go to the source.

This is to ensure that the developer tools are accessible. We are also working on tools to make it easier for developers to test the accessibility of their products. Webhint, Accessibility insights and there are also a few ideas to include new, accessibility focused tools into the devtools. But this is another stream of work and I will talk about that soon.

So, if you think you are a developer with a need we can’t cover because we are not like you, please contact me and help me get some real insights into your needs. The easiest would be to send me an email with a subject of “accessible devtools”. You can also contact me on Twitter. As with anything we do, your personal data will be safe and we won’t publish any of your information publicly.

Thank you, and let’s make the best accessible developer tools possible – together.